Some thoughts on Megrahi and Lockerbie

There is currently a huge amount of over-heated rhetoric on the airwaves and in the blogosphere, in reaction to the Scottish court’s decision to release convicted Libyan mass-bomber Abdel-Basset al-Megrahi before the end of his sentence, on compassionate/health grounds.
I think the court has done the right thing. This very sober analysis from the BBC makes quite clear that huge question-marks still hang over the issue of Megrahi’s actual criminal responsibility for the 1988 Lockerbie bombing. It concludes thus:

    Megrahi was charged as a member of the Libyan Intelligence Services – acting with others.
    If he was involved, the Libyan government, once a sponsor of worldwide terrorism, including support for the IRA, must have been involved too.
    But with Britain and America doing big business with Libya now, perhaps it is in no-one’s political interests to have the truth emerge.
    Megrahi is now dying, but he may have been a convenient scapegoat for a much bigger conspiracy.

The warm welcome he got on his return to Tripoli indicates the high probability that he was indeed a Qadhafi-provided scapegoat.
In which case, all the angst and venom that has been directed against him personally, including by some but not all of those bereaved by the bombing, has been largely misplaced.
Of course, as always, it would be excellent to see even one-tenth as much US media attention paid to the sadness of such people as those Americans bereaved by the 1967 Liberty incident, or those Palestinians, Lebanese, and others bereaved by US-supplied Israeli weapons in more recent years.
Or even more so, the families of those scores of thousands of Iraqis killed by the US and as a result of the US outrageous and illegal invasion of their country in 2003.
The WaPo had a fascinating article Friday that described two Washington-area residents, both bereaved by the Lockerbie bombing, who had come to very different conclusions.
One was Anastasios Vrenios, 68, a singing teacher in Northwest Washington:

    Vrenios, whose son Nicholas was a passenger on Flight 103, is unbothered by the release of Megrahi, who was convicted in 2001. Vrenios said the terrorist merits a special mercy because of his grave prognosis. And continued imprisonment does nothing to eradicate terrorism, he argues.
    “I am thinking as a decent human being,” Vrenios said. “Let the man go and die in his own country — he’s dying anyhow. I am not going to say: ‘How dare you? Let’s go blow his head off.’ It’s the ill that has to be cured, and that’s a far more serious matter. I am just so disillusioned by man and the kind of thing he can resort to in this world.”

The other was Stephanie Bernstein, 58, a Bethesda rabbi, whose husband, Michael, a lawyer with the Justice Department’s Office of Special Investigations, was killed in the attack. (The OSI is a special unit of the Justice Department that for 30 years or so has been dedicated to hunting down Nazis around the world and bringing them before the courts.)
According to the WaPo reporter, Rabbi Bernstein

    worries that flying Megrahi home to Libya so he can live out his final days with family violates both a biblical sense of justice and a promise made by the court system that convicted him.
    Bernstein has been tracking Megrahi’s case for weeks, trying to persuade the Obama administration to strong-arm the Scottish government to keep Megrahi imprisoned.
    “Releasing him sends the wrong message,” she said. “It will be seen by [Libyan president] Col. Moammar Gaddafi as a sign of weakness. If we don’t try to work towards a just world, what good is this release?”

The very different reactions of these two people indicates very vividly that not “all” Americans– and not even “all” the families of those bereaved– are “incensed” by Megrahi’s release.
Indeed, families who are bereaved through acts of terrorism go through very different processes as they struggle with finding the best way to think about their bereavement. One of the best books on this subject is this one by Susan Kerr Van De Ven, daughter of Malcolm Kerr, the president of AUB who was killed by a terrorist, suspected to be a Shiite– on his campus, in 1983.
Van De Ven’s mother, Ann Kerr, is a dear friend of mine. The family has wrestled hard, for many years, with how to respond to Malcolm’s killing, and her daughter’s book is an excellent, intimate record of that.
In the work I’ve done on (anti-)death penalty issues here in Virginia, one thing that has surfaced again and again has been a feeling by some of those who have been bereaved through acts of violence that in order to honor the memory of their departed loved one it is somehow “necessary” to seek the harshest possible vengeance against the killer– and that if you don’t do that, then somehow that dishonors the lost loved one or diminishes his/her memory.
Of course, plenty of people in the legal system, the media– and even among pastors, rabbis, and other religious leaders– are eager to validate and amplify those kinds of arguments.
Such arguments do, however, depart very radically from traditional Christian (and Buddhist) ideas of forgiveness. Also, how about the Old testament’s strong witness regarding “Vengeance is mine, said the Lord”–meaning, presumably, that vengeance should not be for mere mortals to dole out but should be left to the hereafter… And there are plenty of social activists and community leaders here in the US who urge a much less vengeful, calmer, and more constructive response to violently induced bereavement. Including, the people who work with the fine organization Murder Victims’ Families for Reconciliation.
In sum: No, it doesn’t diminish the memory of someone killed in violence by one iota if their surviving family members deal with the tasks of grieving in a non-vengeful manner.
Indeed, quite frequently, just the opposite.

27 thoughts on “Some thoughts on Megrahi and Lockerbie

  1. Titus

    Finally the biased lady had to cave in and talk about Lockerbie. It took long but it was predictable, far away from the American consensus, and of course finding a way of introducing Israel and a Rabbi into an issue that had no Israeli or Jewish angle. You are one sick puppy Helena, you should seek professional help before your hatred and bias consumes you.
    Libya admitted responsibility for Lockerbie, the alternate theory involves Iran and Palestinians, the Libyan semi-official welcome was shameful, and the connection with British business deals is being made in the UK. Even if it wasn’t, just look at how collusion and conflict of interest is treated in the US, even when there is no connection, if one sees that one’s acts can create the appearance of collusion, one should refrain from the acts. That is integrity.
    Next time the US should jail its aggressors, the word of a Scott ain’t worth much, and the words of a Brito-Lebanese pseudo journalist are poison.

  2. Salah

    Helena although all the time politics a good play as in this case.
    But may I add that as reported Al-Megrahi sickness needs lot of medical attentions, that’s means more Scottish tax money should spend to treating him till end of his life which will be lengthen by the Scottish medical care system. so may be this a factor play with the Scottish court’s decision.
    Indeed, families who are bereaved through acts of terrorism go through very different processes as they struggle with finding the best way to think about their bereavement.
    No mention here about 3.2billions compensation paid by a sponsor of worldwide terrorism Libyan government?
    Helena, see how hard and indeed people suffer, did any American thinks or thought what their country did and doing with millions of people life that distracted, humiliated, injured and killed in Iraq and in Afghanistan?
    Yes there is no doubt that Libyan government is an act of terrorism, but what you think about your country acts in Iraq and with Iraqis?
    Titus,
    As been close to one of the victims family, it nice to tell us how much their pay out from 3.2billions compensation that paid? jut to know.

  3. Helena

    Titus, your lack of courtesy is notable, here as elsewhere… Of course the story has a Jewish angle and– within one of the broader lenses in which i place it– also an Israeli angle. What is your objection? For what it’s worth it also has a Presbyterian angle and a Greek Orthodox angle. Deal with it.
    I found the story story that included Rabbi Bernstein notable, primarily, for the description of Mr. Vrenios’s sentiments. But there was of course– as noted by the writer, Ian Shapira– a marked contrast with the sentiments of Rabbi Bernstein.
    At some point when the (recently ordained) rabbi wants to explore the theology behind her attitudes, I’d be happy to do that.
    But the bottom line: the ‘consensus’ that you claim supports your view, Titus, is by no means a consensus here in the US… possibly not even a majority viewpoint. But luckily, Quakers have never been concerned primarily about keeping within whatever national ‘consensus’ is claimed on any particular issue.

  4. Salah

    The warm welcome
    LONDON – British officials denied Saturday that the Lockerbie bomber’s early release was linked to oil and gas deals with Libya.

    peaking to al-Megrahi, Gadhafi’s son said his release was a constant point of discussion during ongoing trade talks.
    “In fact, in all the trade, oil and gas deals which I have supervised you were there on the table. When British interests came to Libya I used to put you on the table. I personally was supervising this issue,” he said.
    “During all visits of former British prime minister Tony Blair, frankly speaking, a big work started in public and secretly for your release. The Libyan-British trade and political interests were aimed to release you,” he said.

    Tony Blair, using diplomacy not like Mark Thatcher , son of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who made his wealth from Saudi when his Mum was PM

  5. Salah

    FBI director rips release of Lockerbie bomber

    Mueller sent a scathing letter to Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill, who cited compassionate grounds in his decision to let Abdel Baset al-Megrahi return to Libya because he has prostate cancer and was given only months to live by British doctors.

    The angry tone of the letter is out of character with the normally reserved Mueller, indicating his outrage is personal as well as professional. He also sent copies to the families of the Lockerbie victims.

  6. titus

    Salah,
    I am not sure in what kind of place you grew up, but here in our world one does not ask a bereaved mother how much money she is going to get for the death of her young son. You may be confused by the Iraqi subsidies to Palestinian suicide bombers (15k$ to the family) into thinking that US mothers approach things that way.
    I am sure that your little mind doesn’t even realize how offensive the question is.
    Helena, there is no Israeli angle, you are reaching. you are desperate to make a connection, and the best you have is the Liberty. Sad attempt. There is no shame in admitting once and then that behind every shameful act in the world there may not be an Israeli. You and your Quackers are free to approach any way you want it, it just hurst your case, and eventually what goes around will come around.
    Having said that I am glad you broached the topic, even in your predictably and reflexive manner, and look forward to some discussion on Iran putting a cabinet member wanted by Interpol for the Buenos Aires massacre. Maybe Argentina can reach a deal to turn this fellow to Scotland… Or Spain’s Garzon to claim universal jurisdiction over a case involving a Muslim for a change… Look forward to your views, and of course any noises to break your deafening silence on the three Berkeley fellows that have disappeared into the ugly black hole called Iran three weeks ago. Your fellow journalists Helena, from Pacifica radio…

  7. Watson

    Lockerbie was certainly a tragedy.
    Our media has used it to reinforce its customary portrayal of good-guy Uncle Sam, beleaguered by terrorists who are coddled by a world full of appeasers.
    It’s not certain that Megrahi is guilty. It’s possible that the real author was acting in revenge for Iran Air 655, a civilian airliner which the US missile cruiser Vincennes had shot down in Iranian airspace a few months before Lockerbie, killing nearly 300 Iranians, including 66 kids.
    The US made a cash settlement in 1996, but never apologized or admitted wrongdoing. The Vincennes crew wasn’t prosecuted. They were given medals.
    I’ve seen no mention of IR655 in the current round of media moralizing.

  8. Hicham

    I understand the two opposite opinions regarding this case but since I am not westerner, my problem with releasing the man is simply the bigger picture. I mean truth about the bombing which seems to be dissapearing for me as an observer.

  9. bevin

    “Of course, as always, it would be excellent to see even one-tenth as much US media attention paid to the sadness of such people as those Americans bereaved by the 1967 Liberty incident, or those Palestinians, Lebanese, and others bereaved by US-supplied Israeli weapons in more recent years.”
    Yes, and the Vincennes matter too, which though filmed in its entirety, has never been enquired into publicly. It is widely held that the Lockerbie bombing was carried out as revenge for the killing of, as Watson notes, almost 300 Iranian pilgrims.
    Nor is this case by any means unique as one Mr Posada, currently living in prosperous retirement in Miami, could attest, Indeed as the whole world knows: Posada has publicly boasted of the role that he played, as a salaried employee of the US government, in blowing up an airliner carrying, inter alia, a Youth Orchestra and a Fencing team from Cuba. He was actually jailed in Venezuela but managed, thanks to the good offices of the US government, to escape.
    Nothing could be more horrible than what happened at Lockerbie but the proper response is, not to scream for more foreign blood, but to make it crystal clear to your government that such are the consequences of terrorism- a vicious circle bringing more terrorism.
    The United States is feeding the fires which make more Lockerbies and more 9/11s almost inevitable. That is what the significance of your detention and torture programme is, and that is what it is designed to be: a provocation intended to drive people to desperate acts which can then be magnified into propaganda for more war.
    And this diabolical behaviour comes from a nation in which millions today will pretend that they are followers of Jesus Christ, who inspires them to blow up airliners, torture children and bomb cities.
    No doubt they honour Jesus because he may forgive them-nobody else is likely to do so.

  10. Vigilante

    Political assassins and terrorists strike at the life blood of open and democratic societies. Absent the death penalty, (which I agree should be abolished), these assholes should rot to death in prison whenever they can be caught and convicted. That’s what Megrahi was doing when he was let out, “Scot-Free”.

  11. Watson

    Megrahi was an employee of the Libyan government. If he had worked for the US government, he would have been eligible for the “following orders” defense that Uncle Sam affords to the state-sponsored torturers in its employ.

  12. George Hanshaw

    I think this episode points out the validity of an analysis that many of us have come to believe. It just isn’t possible to really get justice within the sphere of international law. Realpolitik always rears its ugly head, no different now than from when Neville Chamberlain came back from Munich having tacitly accepted the enslavement of people by barbarian Nazis in exchange for a ‘good deal’ for the United Kingdom. The surprising thing really is that the United States cared enough about our common heritage to actually bail the UK out. They probably could have made their own realpolitik deal with the Nazis and turned their efforts solely upon defeating the Japanese. They could have quite easily owned all the Western Hemisphere and most of East Asia by now had they not allowed their sentimentality for the UK to affect them.
    The US is still somewhat the sappy sentimentalists in world affairs – coming to the EUs rescue in dealing with Yugoslavia when they really didn’t have a dog in that fight – and more recently with Iraq and Afghanistan trying to build civilizations worthy of the name – at great expense in lives and treasure.
    Perhaps this episode shows that the Jihadists have a better way. Don’t worry about exit strategies or post war aid – simply destroy and move on. Don’t appeal decisions like this expecting judtice – simply put some cruise missiles on the site and kill the evil bastards – damn the cost in civilian casualties and double-damn any sense of having to convert these people to civilization.
    Just bomb their government into oblivion – every time Quaddafi or some other leader raises their butt-ugly head. When their people wise up and follow people who want to be civilized – then we can stop. Until then, fight the war their way.

  13. bb

    Salah is right. Libya not only accepted responsibility and paid billions of dollars compensation it also completely and openly disarmed itself of its weapons of mass destruction, and revealed that it was much further advanced in its nuclear program than anybody had realised.
    So what is extraordinary about this is the Obama Democratic Admin’s attack on the Scottish government. You would have thought that Obama of all people would appreciate the turning point in 2003 where Libya renounced terrorism, disbanded its wmds and helped make the world a safer place. Instead he pathetically plays domestic politics. So much for hope and change.
    As for Megrahi, the Scottish government was clearly doing the right and compassionate thing by releasing the man dying of terminal cancer. It was always obvious that he (and the other guy who was acquitted) were the sacrificial goats served up by Libya at the time.

  14. anonymous

    Ms.Cobban, it is in a way good that you allow Titus and his ilk to come onto your forum and use nasty language – as an indian saying goes “speak so I can see you”
    Thanks to other contributors for mentioning the issue of Iranian Airbus and the relevant issue that Meghrahi could use the defense “I was ordered to do it” and the position of the US Gov. vis a vis torture in Guantanamo and other secretive prisons.

  15. Salah

    You know, Qadhafi should really hold account to the crime…but here Qadhafi case remind us with Chilean president Augusto Pinochet case. Pinochet has touched so many aspects of contemporary life, and so many individuals are associated with him, when you think of it—Henry Kissinger, Richard Nixon, Margaret Thatcher. But when time comes and convicted we saw the support and defences of some western democracy despite his brutal history to his nation.
    I doubt one of you knew what Qadhafi doing inside his nation more than his international terrorist stupid links wasting his nation money to feed his handed for been a fool a hero.
    But many Iraqi friends went to Libya,lived worked there for few years, it’s very awful regime neglected his nation despite the wealth of that country which wasted in fool ways..
    This story told by Russian Military guy I met him mid 1980. the story is Libya bought a lot of Russian weapons includes Air defence systems, five years later the Russian went to inspect them they found them in the desert covered never commissioned and used but Rats done a good job by playing with the wires made most of the systems useless….
    What bb stating about Libya weapons of mass destruction, that revealed it was much further advanced in its nuclear program than anybody had realised. There is doubts this is true, this just Bush’s one of his serving propaganda machine to make people believe he done good job by invading Iraq…

  16. Shirin

    The US is still somewhat the sappy sentimentalists in world affairs…with Iraq and Afghanistan trying to build civilizations worthy of the name – at great expense in lives and treasure.
    Surely you don’t really believe that is what they were trying to do in Iraq and Afghanistan.

  17. omop

    Titus writes with some deep felt emotions about Iran putting a cabinet member wanted by Interpol for the Buenos Aires massacre. Maybe Argentina can reach a deal to turn this fellow to Scotland… Or Spain’s Garzon to claim universal jurisdiction over a case involving a Muslim for a change…..
    But not one word about what Israelis did to 700,000 Palestenians as directed by Ariel sharon and other Jews.:
    “Everybody has to move, run and grab as many hilltops as they can to enlarge the settlements because everything we take now will stay ours . . . Everything we don’t grab will go to them.”
    — Ariel Sharon, 1998

  18. bb

    ????? As I recall Libya was quite pleased to demonstrate it had a developed nuke program under the noses of the yanks!
    Fact is, Obama should be holding Libya up as a model.

  19. Titus

    Good thread, thanks for all perspectives, well except Omop who is in the business of quotes. Omop, whatever the Palestinians lost in 1948 they did it to themselves, they just could not accept the 1947 partition, could they? They had to do things the jihad way, make it hard, bloody, and then play victim, terrorist, refugee, until the cows come home. Just like today’s Iraq, have the land, have the oil, the US moving out, but every sect, every clan, every landlord wants more, and none for the others.
    700.000? Another Arab trait, the gift of exaggeration complementing a vivid imagination. The danger is when they believe their own lies. Look at poor Saddam Hussein and how colorful his rhetoric was.

  20. Helena

    Ah, Titus, what an amazing leap of logic: whatever the Palestinians lost in 1948 they did it to themselves, they just could not accept the 1947 partition, could they?
    They “did it to themselves”? This is an outrageous calumny. Blaming the victim as anti-Palestinians so often do.
    Yes, a majority of the Palestinian Arabs opposed the Partition Plan. In retrospect we can discuss whether that was a wise judgment or not. But it had considerable logic to it at a time when a great wave of decolonization was starting to sweep the world and the rights of the indigenous peoples of colonized or otherwise foreign-controlled lands were taking center stage.
    Even if one entertained the idea of partition he actual terms of the PP were clearly inequitable between the Jewish state and the Arab state…
    So we can continue to discuss that political issue… But what cannot be defended is the proposition is that the Palestinian Arabs ethnically cleansed from their homes and communities in 1947-48 and never allowed to return to them since are some “responsible” for the fate they and their families suffered then and continue to suffer till now.

  21. Salah

    Look at poor Saddam Hussein and how colorful his rhetoric was.
    “look to Bush and how colorful US rhetoric is”

  22. kassandra

    Wasn’t there a recent review of the Meghari case that concluded he did not receive a fair trial? I remember that even when the trial was taking place, that there were many strange leaps of faith made to convict Meghari.
    And Lybia accepted ‘responsibility’ for the bombing in order to get the sancions placed on it eased. In contrast, the US gave medals to the men who shot down Iran Air 655. And somewhere along the way Lybia was also bombed by the USA, during which one of Ghadaffi’s young children was killed. Don’t remember any apologies or compensations here.
    One of the quid pro quo’s of Meghari’s release was that all efforts to open up his previous trial be dropped.
    There’s more here than meets the eye.

  23. Titus

    Helena,
    The logic and wisdom behind rejecting the partition and a peaceful resolution may be justified, but along any choice comes the risk of the outcome. The Palestinians made that choice and contributed to the outcome. The uprooting of population by any rational observer is the combination of their own aggression and the loss of the campaign (the losing side seldom wants to stick around). Many of the villages the Israelis took over were taken over after they attacked their immediately neighboring kibutz (in spite of cordial relationship until the war) and the killing of their civilians as they tried to escape. I was just reading about one such case where the kibutz was just women and children as the men were conscripted, and the men found the shot to death in the kibutz water channels as they tried to escape.
    This is hardly blaming the victim when the aggressor in the 1948 war is clearly seen as the Arab side. What you seek is to exonerate the aggressor instead. As you do with anything involving Arabs or Muslims.
    War always produces refugees, sometimes they end up in far lands. This was not the case, and the demographics of the holy land show that the ethnic cleansing line is a lie. The only cleansed part of that land is Gaza, cleansed by Palestinians.

  24. Salah

    It’s clear from her writing she lost herself, her soul, as an American living American dreams, then went to Promises land dream, she lost between tow dreams….. Nevertheless, she wakeup on the reality on the ground there in Palestine the occupied land seen people suffering from occupation, thinking of her kids as mother so on and so forth.
    This woman has sense of hummer more from others, she care about her kids and their future.
    Israelis calling for more immigrants to full new settlement in the West Bank and other places after deserted land from the native resident “Palestinian”.
    The act of emigrating from other countries to Israel, the goal is beyond the adults, in our case here Allison Speiser. The goal is the new generations “kids” who will grow on the promises land or those who born on that land they will fell loyal to new land defending it even it is an occupied land.
    Btw, did she mention her partner/ husband in her writing? She looks a lone with her kids………..which take us to the “little minder” when he said: “but here in our world one does not ask a bereaved mother how much money she is going to get for the death of her young son. “…he forgot the money is every thing in his nation not the morals…

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